Today at Google I/O, Google let loose a whole smorgasbord of tech announcements. One of the most notable announcements was that Google Daydream is going to get bigger and more independent. Google is allowing manufacturers to make phone-less virtual reality systems that do not rely on cellphones, instead act as full all-one-headsets. This is great news because the Google Daydream platform has been lagging since its release last year. Perhaps this is the kick in the buttocks that Daydream needs to become a dominant virtual reality platform.
The first two companies that are working with Google are HTC and Lenovo. This is great news as both of these companies have experience in virtual reality. HTC created the awesome HTC Vive headset which has gone on to become the premier room-scale virtual reality headset that everyone envies. Lenovo on the other hand, who now owns Motorola’s phone division was among the first adopters and developers of Google Daydream last year. Although it was not widely publicized, the super flat Moto Z had Google Daydream support.
HTC is teasing us a few preview images of its headset (see above and below). Although these images are dark and mysterious (boo), a few important tech details can be ascertained. The headset in the pictures appears to have a double strap mechanism that is quite different from the Gear VR, the HTC Vive and even the Oculus Rift’s head straps. HTC's new strap has two strips. It looks like one or both of these straps can be adjusted for extra comfort.
The pictures do not provide enough information to tell if HTCs new headset could have a flip down feature like the PlayStation VR. It would be great if this was the case because the PSVR’s flip down system is regarded as the best and most comfortable of the VR headsets.Providing a few hints HTC says:
“We have been working closely with developers and consumers to define the best VR experiences over the past few years, and we are perfectly positioned to deliver the most premium standalone headset and user experience. Vive’s standalone VR headset will provide a deeper and more immersive portable VR experience than ever before.”
Although HTC is keeping tight lipped on the details, a few important bits of info have been provided to the press and public. Google is supporting HTC to make a fully stand alone headset. Importantly, this means no phone and no wires! Without a phone, the headset will contain a full all-in-one portable system. This includes a CPU, GPU, batteries etc. Besides making it easy to just slip on and wear, this will be great for the Daydream platform because it will not be limited by the design decisions used to make phones ultra-portable.
This means the headset will be able to sport a much larger and heavier battery than a phone. Of course, a larger battery will lead to far superior battery life. Beyond batteries, the headset will be able to include a much more powerful CPU and GPU combo. With the larger battery feeding more powerful silicon, the headset will be able to provide higher quality 3d visuals.
Furthermore, the amount of space in the headset will allow for more room to include more advanced motion and spatially aware sensors. On this, HTC says that a “WorldSense” tracking system that uses optics, sensors, and optimized displays will be used match your geo-location while also keeping track of your environment. This sounds like inside-out tracking to me.
When will this headset hit the market? HTC is being coy and just saying “later this year.” This probably means Fall/Christmas. As for the price, HTC isn't saying but I would venture that we will see something in the 400-500 dollar price range. HTC never releases cheap products but I can't imagine them going toe-to-toe with Oculus. That said, they have made some weird pricing decisions in the past few years.